So who has the “vision thing?” President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney each pitched the core of their economic and budget strategies to crowds in Ohio on Thursday in back-to-back speeches. As expected, each accused the other of economic incompetence while offering their best shots at how to expand the economy and avoid a European-style debt crisis.
With Obama reeling from two weeks of bad economic news and the political uproar over his assertion a week ago that the private sector was "doing just fine,” the president was under pressure from many in his party to sharpen his economic message. The two speeches in a key battleground state that Obama carried in 2008 signaled a new phase of close engagement by the contenders in a hard-fought and increasingly tight presidential campaign. Romney, at the last minute, moved up the timing of his speech to steal some of Obama’s thunder and preemptively mock the president’s arguments.
“Now, I know that he will have all sorts of excuses, and he’ll have all sorts of ideas he’ll describe about how he’ll make things better,” Romney told a business group. “But what he says and what he does are not always the exact same thing. And so if people want to know how his economic policies have worked and how they perform, why, they can talk to their neighbor and ask if things are better.”
OBAMA: WE NEED MORE TAXES, MORE INFRASTRUCTURE, MORE SACRIFICE
Obama probably gave the better (and certainly longer) speech, with rhetorical flourishes and targeted appeals to middle-class Democrats, independents and even some Republicans. His overarching message, while well stated, was certainly familiar: The nation was finally emerging from its worst economic crisis of modern times – one largely of the Republicans’ making – and that to turn back now to failed GOP policies would be a terrible mistake.
Obama said the path to recovery and fiscal stability would require substantial short term investments in schools, highways, public service jobs, research and energy development, combined with long-term deficit reduction and “shared sacrifices.” Middle- and lower-income Americans will have to accept cutbacks in social and health care programs, Obama said, while wealthier Americans will have to go along with an increase in their taxes to help plug gaping holes in the federal budget.
“This election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth, how to pay down our long-term debt and, most of all, how to generate good, middle-class jobs so people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead,” Obama said. “This isn’t some abstract debate. This is not another trivial Washington argument. I have said that this is the defining issue of our time, and I mean it. I said that this is a make-or-break moment for America’s middle class, and I believe it.”
Obama also played the blame game, pointing fingers at Republicans for the political gridlock in Washington that he feels thwarted many of his economic and budget initiatives and left the unemployment rate stuck at above 8 percent throughout his administration. He blamed the policies of former president George W. Bush for deepening the recession and accused Romney and his political allies on Capitol Hill for offering the same “misguided” vision.
Obama acknowledged that the economy is still wracked by severe problems, despite his ill-advised comment last week about how well the private sector was doing. Moreover, he said, “I don’t believe that the government is the answer to all our problems.” He added, “What is holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views between what direction America should take.”
But for anyone looking for some bold new wrinkle in the rhetoric that might shake up the campaign or send the stock market into orbit, there was disappointment. Obama and Romney each stayed well within their comfort zones, delivering speeches to friendly crowds in the respective Democratic and Republican strongholds of Cleveland and Cincinnati.
ROMNEY: WE NEED TAX CUTS, LESS REGULATION, MORE DRILLING
Romney’s vision is to lead the country back to the future by shunning short-term stimulus spending in favor of a long-term strategy of more tax cuts,fewer business regulations, more domestic oil and gas drilling, and more aggressive dealings with China and other trade partners.
Most of his ideas echoed well-known GOP anti-tax, anti regulatory policies that critics say contributed to towering deficits and the eventual collapse of the housing market and financial institutions.
Romney also once again vowed to repeal Obama’s health care bill, the Affordable Care Act, as well as the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation. He also vowed to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project between Canada and the U.S. Gulf Coast as part of an all-out effort to spur domestic oil and gas production.
“This is our time,” Romney told his Cincinnati audience. “We can either continue on a path to become more and more like Europe, with bigger and bigger government, taking more and more from the American people, directing our lives and telling us how to run our enterprises” and leading to chronic high unemployment, low wages and potential fiscal calamity “like we’re seeing at the doorstep of Europe today.”
“Or we can instead return to the principles that made America America,” Romney added. “We can once again have a nation that leads the world in entrepreneurship, in innovation, in job creation, in economic vitality, in wage growth.”
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Polls show the presidential campaign has greatly tightened and that Romney has recovered from the battering he took from former senator Rick Santorum and other GOP rivals during the primaries earlier this year. The one-time private equity executive now poses a serious threat to the president’s bid for a second term, especially with his ability to raise campaign funds.
As Obama has said repeatedly in recent days, the campaign poses the starkest contrasts in economic views in memory. “When I hear Gov. Romney say his 25 years in the private sector gives him a special understanding of how the economy works, my question is, why are you running with the same bad ideas that brought our economy to the brink of disaster?” Obama said earlier this week.
Romney’s rejoinder is that this election is a watershed, “which will determine the relationship between citizen and enterprise and government.” He has called Obama’s record “the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs series of policies in modern American history,” adding that Obama is “not responsible for whatever improvement we might be seeing.”
Romney says the blame for the nation’s current economic woes falls squarely with Obama and the Democrats, dating back to what he describes as misguided spending and fiscal strategy for dealing with the economic meltdown and Great Recession: “The president’s team indicated that if we passed their stimulus of $787 billion, borrowed, that they’d hold unemployment below 8 percent. We’ve gone 40 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.”
Romney warned that if Obama wins a second term, his policies would “stifle” energy resources in coal, oil and natural gas, impose more and more regulations that would add to the cost of doing business, and boost taxes on the wealthiest Americans. The Romney camp says the president is offering no new ideas for improving the economy, just more spending, more taxes, more regulation.
Obama says reckless Republican policies during the Bush administration – including runaway deficit spending on two wars and anti-terror activities, huge tax cuts that drained the Treasury, and inadequate regulations and housing policies led to the financial meltdown and great recession that he had to cope with when he took office.
“Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that we tried during the last decade,” Obama said in his nearly hour-long speech at Cuyahoga Community College. “The theory is that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down. So they maintain that if we eliminate most regulations, we cut taxes by trillions of dollars, if we strip down government to national security and a few other basic functions, then the power of businesses to create jobs and prosperity will be unleashed, and that will automatically benefit us all. This is their economic plan.”